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From the name of a legendary knot tied to a pole near the temple of Zeus in Gordium. It was prophesied that whoever loosed the knot would become ruler of all Asia. Alexander the Great solved the puzzle by slicing through the knot and took it as a sign of Zeus's favor. He then proceeded to conquer much of the known world.



Gordian knot (plural Gordian knots)

  1. The legendary knot tied to a pole near the temple of Zeus in Gordium.
  2. (by extension) Any intricate and complex problem having a simple solution.


1599 1785 1825 1881
ME « 15th c. 16th c. 17th c. 18th c. 19th c. 20th c. 21st c.
  • 1599, William Shakespeare, Henry V, i 1:
    List his discourse of war, and you shall hear
    A fearful battle rend'red you in music;
    Turn him to any cause of policy,
    The Gordian knot of it he will unloose.
  • 1785, Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785):
    The knot which you thought a Gordian one, will untie itself before you.
  • 1825, William Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age, The Late Mr. Horne Tooke:
    Mr. Tooke thought he had answered this question satisfactorily, and loosened the Gordian knot of grammarians.
  • 1881, James Greenwood, Low-Life Deeps, ch. 10:
    The right hon. gentleman, who was doubtless aware of the popularity of the old English saying, "what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander," shrewdly judged that he could not go far wrong if he cut the Gordian knot in which the publican's disagreement was bound, by declaring his conviction that what was good for the Crown and Cushion, in the Strand, was likewise good for the Three Jolly Tinkers, in Brick Lane; and that, to put an end to the vexed question, the shortest way would be to tar them all with the same brush.

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